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Sketch Artist II: Hands That See
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by Jack Sommersby

"Not a Picasso, Not a Doodle"
3 stars

One of the few Showtime-produced movies that isn't a total waste of time.

Sketch Artist II: Hands That See is a completely unnecessary, unremarkable sequel to the incompetent made-for-cable-TV original from three years prior (see review), but in an undemanding way it manages to work -- you could do worse on a boring and rainy Saturday afternoon, believe me. The always-welcome Jeff Fahey returns as Los Angeles police sketch artist Jack Whitfield, who before had to contend with the possibility that his career fashion-industry wife was a killer after a murder-scene witness' description eerily matched her description (it turned out she was in fact guilty); this time, he's got quite another challenge on his hands in that the witness in his current case, Emmy O'Connor (Courteney Cox), who was raped by a religious serial-killer plaguing the area but managed to escape, is blind (hence the movie's title). Initially, Jack balks at the mere idea of even trying to reproduce a likeliness of the fiend's face, but Emmy insists, and he's slowly bowled over at her uncanny ability of determining facial details, age and even hair color by touch. We know the sketch is accurate because we're given a clear view of the killer beforehand: one Timothy Rothko (Michael Nicolosi), a baby-faced, Bible-toting nutbag who enjoys slicing womens' faces off with a hunting knife and leaving a silver cross on the corpses. Already we're tempted to write the movie off because in the first twenty minutes we're privy to the killer's identity and are initially nonplussed at Rothko as a villain -- he just seems too much of an unforceful sourpuss to suitably serve as a viable antagonist. Luckily, the screenwriter, Michael Angeli, who wrote the original with a nifty story idea and inadequately developed it, has a few decent tricks up his sleeve.

Obviously, the movie isn't a whodunit, and not much of a whydunit, either. While Angeli probably could've delved into the motivation behind the slayings (Rothko's underlined passages in his Bible, which is confiscated after he's arrested after a routine traffic stop by some highway patrolmen, is glided over), the lack of potential pseudo-religious undertones in an unchallenging piece of fiction such as this is a welcome-enough tradeoff. We're gradually held by a villain whose disarming, golly-gee demeanor when interacting with the general public nicely contrasts with that of his vicious dark side when awakened; and Nicolosi, in a disciplined, deftly-understated performance, gives the character some verity. After a highly implausible sequence where Emmy is stalked and attacked again by Rothko at the community college where she teaches (surely the police would've immediately provided her protection after the sketch that gets released to the press is aired; and surely he wouldn't have parked his car in such a conspicuous place so it can be easily identified), he's captured at about the halfway mark, and the rest of the proceedings deal with the trial that gets under way five months later. I won't go into a whole lot more in the way of detail, except to say some interesting strategies on the part of Rothko's acute defense attorney (played by that fantastic B-movie actor Brion James) are thrown into the mix, along with Emmy, who's very reluctant to testify, called upon to work her hands-only magic in a nicely timed finale that plays itself out far better than one might expect. In essence, Sketch Artist II: Hands That See shucks a lot of thriller-movie conventions to play out in a more low-key manner where characterizations are given unexpected emphasis.

The director is Jack Sholder, who made the excellent sci-fi/action favorite The Hidden but was also responsible for execrable cinematic fare by the dubious likes of Alone in the Dark, Renegades and A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge. Working with a lack of distinction but fair-enough technical adequacy, he gets in and out of scenes without stumbling, and segues the various scenes together with fluency. The movie lacks atmosphere and compression (something the fine thriller Blink from the year before, which also dealt with a visually-impaired woman and a serial killer, had in spades), and there's not exactly a truly standout moment to be had anywhere in the running time, but with such limited material all we can really ask is the storyteller getting from point A to B without making a mockery of things. Maybe one day Sholder can regain the imagination and finesse of The Hidden, but in the meantime we can be thankful for the lack of frenetic cutting and overly-arty camerawork that many of his ilk are predisposed into perpetrating onto the silver screen these days. He, alas, can't do much with Cox, who's her usual limited TV-actress self of all surface and little depth, but, as aforementioned, he gets fine work out of Nicolosi. As for Fahey, he always brings some semblances of depth to whatever project he lends his considerable talent to, and this is no exception. Handsome and earnest and dedicated, he's that rare thespian who acts in the moment with a consideration for the good of the film over unsuitably showboating to call undue attention onto himself. I can't say he's stretching himself by participating in a just-average non-theatrical release like Sketch Artist II: Hands That See (he belongs on the big screen as much as anyone), but he delivers, and viewers of the movie are all the better for it.

Worth plucking from a used VHS bargain bin if you get the chance.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=23179&reviewer=327
originally posted: 11/27/11 03:01:34
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USA
  28-Jan-1995 (PG-13)
  DVD: 19-Jun-1997

UK
  N/A

Australia
  N/A


Directed by
  Jack Sholder

Written by
  Michael Angeli

Cast
  Jeff Fahey
  Courteney Cox
  Michael Nicolosi



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